The Top 25 Music Schools 2016

8:00 AM 11/23/2016

by THR staff

These elite institutions attended by the likes of Leonard Cohen, Alicia Keys and Diane Warren will help you hit the high notes in everything from film composition to live performance.

The Top 25 Music Schools 2016 - Illustration by Michael Hirshon -H 2016
Illustration by Michael Hirshon

A career in the music industry is not easy. The competition is fierce, talent alone provides no guarantees, and you're only going to get so many chances to prove yourself. In short, you're going to need every break you can get. For many, music schools can, at the very least, provide the necessary experience and training to help navigate a particularly cutthroat industry.

After all, everyone from John Williams to Alicia Keys benefitted from a formal musical education. Choosing the right school, however, is daunting. So whether you want to become one of the world's best violinists, compose music for the big screen or master the recording studio, THR's ranking of the top 25 music schools and programs will help narrow the search.

  1. 1

    The Juilliard School

    Juilliard still manages to bestride the music schools list like a colossus, as the premier conservatory in the country and the training ground for countless major league musical talents such as John Williams and Henry Mancini, along with some of the best actors on the planet. About 1,000 students (less than 600 undergrads) pay $38,228 per year in tuition (although around 78 percent receive grants) to attend the New York school, with 91 percent of them graduating within six years.

  2. 2


    USC remains the go-to destination for students looking to get into the film music business, with studio recording stages just a traffic jam away. Adjunct instructor Garry Schyman says access to L.A.'s film industry is USC's biggest advantage: "While you have excellent programs elsewhere in the country, they cannot provide that kind of opportunity to meet, talk with and learn from professionals."

  3. 3

    San Francisco Conservatory of Music

    The San Francisco Conservatory of Music is one of the West's oldest conservatories, but it also boasts significant support and inspiration from Silicon Valley. "MaryClare Brzytwa is a young dean who has put this all together herself, and I'm just impressed," composer Laura Karpman (Paris Can Wait) says of the school's New Music and Technology program. "She has got a hugely diverse student body."

  4. 4

    Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University

    It may be located squarely in flyover country (Bloomington, Ind.), but Jacobs is one of the largest music schools in the U.S. Student John Weisiger, who graduated from the school and has found music publishing and scoring work in Portland, Ore., says: "I would say that versatility has been the biggest thing I've gained from my experience there — it has given me the ability to adapt to the opportunities that have come my way. I would not have the jobs I have now if I didn't have all that experience."

  5. 5

    University of North Carolina School for the Arts

    Composer and UNCSA alumni Christopher Heckman, who teaches film scoring at the Winston-Salem school, says one of the biggest advantages is that the program is incorporated into the School of Filmmaking. "There's a studio system model there for everything — preproduction through post," he says. "It's a great place to grow as an artist for two years before you head out into the real world."

  6. 6

    Columbia College

    Columbia College in Chicago is growing its media scoring department in order to balance academic and concert-oriented training with more commercial possibilities. The school offers an MFA in Music Composition for the Screen, as well as music training through a Bachelor of Arts degree for music majors and minors, offering study in music theory, composition, history and literature, as well as conducting, music technology and ample performances.

  7. 7

    Columbia University

    Founded in 1896, Columbia's Department of Music has a long and venerable reputation, and the New York university's core curriculum Composition program caters to a small number of highly qualified candidates to be trained in a wide variety of contemporary musical styles as well as in media applications. Then there's the prestige: With a stingy 7 percent acceptance rate, the school is difficult to get into.

  8. 8

    Berklee College of Music

    With 32 different recording studios available to students, the Boston school offers some of the most comprehensive training in production, engineering and recording technology available on the East Coast. "The music production and engineering department is superior to any I've come across," says composer George S. Clinton (Austin Powers).

  9. 9

    Oberlin Conservatory of Music

    Oberlin, Ohio's 183-year-old conservatory is the oldest in the country, but it manages to combine conservatory training with media scoring. Says second-year student Sophia Bass: "I'm taking a composition class, and in that class, I'm not just learning how to notate music, but I'm also actually writing pieces that are being performed by conservatory students."

  10. 10

    New England Conservatory

    New England Conservatory offers courses in jazz, as well as classical, contemporary improvisation, and world and early music. Class sizes are small, with a ratio of five students to one teacher, making for one of the more intimate music education experiences in the country.

  11. 11

    Curtis Institute of Music

    Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music will surround you with a small class of around 150 other performance prodigies and provide you with a full-tuition scholarship — assuming you make the cut of the school's annual acceptance rate of between 4 percent and 11 percent.

  12. 12

    Eastman School of Music

    The Rochester, N.Y., school pushes students to place their music studies into a holistic context with a liberal arts approach that combines music with study in the humanities. Recent alumni Jeff Beal (House of Cards) and his wife, Joan, contributed $2 million to the school to create the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media.

  13. 13

    Royal College of Music

    The London school offers a cozy 800-student population and an elite musical education designed to make you a working musician, with the Creative Careers Centre specifically tasked to help students market themselves and develop employment as instructors. Facilities include the famed Britten Theatre and the recently refurbished Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall, and the school maintains close ties to the neighboring Royal Albert Hall.

  14. 14

    Yale School of Music

    At Yale School of Music, graduate students in performance or composition find themselves in a rarefied atmosphere. "The style of music that was prevalent at Yale is a lot less accessible to the average listener than commercial music," says composer Christophe Beck (Ant-Man) of the New Haven, Conn., program: "I took the only conducting course I've ever taken at Yale, and even though I don't conduct now, that really helps with orchestration as well."

  15. 15

    University of Miami, Frost School of Music

    Frost's Henry Mancini Institute gives classical and jazz students training in world music and contemporary performance styles, while the orchestra performs and records for major venues with such artists as James Newton Howard (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).

  16. 16

    University of North Texas

    UNT boasts a rigorous classical curriculum and a secluded academic environment in Denton. The school has a vast music library (with more than 1 million sound recordings), eight performance halls and 26 ensembles.

  17. 17

    California State University, Northridge

    Cal State Northridge has a generous acceptance rate of 61 percent and in-state tuition of $8,208, a considerable bargain for the region. The school offers programs in media and film composition, jazz and classical performance, and music industry studies — and students are required to audition.

  18. 18

    Middle Tennessee State University

    The music program at Murfreesboro's MTSU presents more than 180 concerts a year, including operas as well as various bands, orchestral and chamber music ensembles. Alumnus George S. Clinton says: "They have an incredible communication department, a mass communication division that encompasses not only music in terms of writing music for media, but also journalism, television production and production for media."

  19. 19

    Manhatttan School of Music

    MSM boasts 132 practice rooms and eight performance spaces that host 700 performances a year, including operas, orchestral concerts, student and faculty recitals, and jazz concerts both at the school and at Lincoln Center.

  20. 20

    California Institute of the Arts

    Valencia-based CalArts has its own branch of the Herb Alpert School of Music with courses in hip-hop, jazz, pop, voice arts and rock, as well as tonal and atonal music. There's also Music Technology: Interaction, Intelligence & Design (MTIID), a program designed to prepare students for careers in electronic composition and performance, sound design and synthesis, web/multimedia design and interactive audio. Students perform in more than 250 concerts a year and have opportunities to collaborate with the filmmaking and animation students (Pixar's John Lasseter and Brad Bird are alumni).

  21. 21

    Syracuse University

    Syracuse's Crouse College and the Setnor School of Music, housed in a Byzantine building that sports carved spiral staircases, a 3,823-pipe organ and bell towers, offers an appropriate venue for the first university in the U.S. to offer a degree in music (in 1877), with the expected emphases in instrumental and vocal performance and composition.

  22. 22

    New York University

    NYU's Scoring for Film and Multimedia program trains students in virtual, traditional and hybrid orchestration, score preparation, music editing and audio production. Once students create music, they get the opportunity to record it with a number of different ensembles, ranging from soloists to a symphonic orchestra. But the school's high tuition ($38,304 per year) and lack of extensive financial aid can create steep student debt.

  23. 23

    UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music

    UCLA's music school boasts veteran composers Bruce Broughton and Peter Golub as lecturers in composition, but it still is seeking to fill two major positions and find a direction that will position it to compete with USC and other local, Hollywood-friendly music schools.

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    Belmont University

    Belmont's vocal training and songwriting students have formed a reliable talent pool for such TV shows as American Idol, but many of them also make their way from Nashville into Hollywood, the New York music scene and, of course, Nashville's country music population.

  25. 25

    Full Sail University

    In Winter Park, Fla., Full Sail offers students training not only in music performance and composition, but also in the business realities of a music career and the art of marketing yourself in the music world with its Music Business bachelor's degree. A Recording Arts degree trains students in recording, mixing and editing music, and a Show Production bachelor's degree program educates students in the production of live audio performances and tours.